A quoi servent les économistes ?

CAMBRIDGE – Quand les enjeux sont importants, il n'est pas surprenant que des adversaires politiques qui s’affrontent se servent de tous les soutiens qu'ils peuvent recueillir auprès des économistes et d'autres chercheurs. C'est ce qui s'est passé quand les politiciens conservateurs américains et des représentants de l'Union européenne se sont saisis des travaux de deux professeurs de Harvard – Carmen Reinhart et Kenneth Rogoff – pour justifier leur soutien à l'austérité budgétaire.

Reinhart et Rogoff ont publié un article qui semblait indiquer que des niveaux de dette publique supérieurs à 90% du PIB entravent de manière significative la croissance économique. Trois économistes de l'Université du Massachusetts à Amherst ont alors entrepris ce que les universitaires sont habituellement censés faire – reproduire le travail de leurs collègues et le soumettre à la critique.

A part une erreur d’encodage relativement mineure, ils ont identifié certains choix méthodologiques dans l’étude originale de Reinhart et Rogoff qui mettaient en question la robustesse de leurs résultats. Le plus important, même si les niveaux d'endettement et la croissance restent corrélés négativement, est la mise en évidence que la preuve en faveur du seuil de 90% est en fait assez faible. Et, comme beaucoup l'ont indiqué, la corrélation elle-même pourrait être le résultat d'une faible croissance conduisant à un endettement élevé, plutôt que l'inverse.

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